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What B2B marketers need to know about Google's Hummingbird update

The first thing to point out is that this is, clearly, a big deal. All your valuable, carefully-crafted marketing content is worthless if nobody can find it. Even in these days of social sharing, there’s still one overwhelming way that content will bring you new business: Google.

And the Hummingbird update affects something like 90% of searches.

But don’t be afraid. For high-quality B2B technology marketers, Hummingbird is more of an opportunity than a threat: early feedback suggests that relatively few reputable sites have seen their rankings fall.

So, what is Hummingbird, and how can marketers make the most of the opportunity? Here’s a very quick guide:


What does Hummingbird do?

Hummingbird is a change to Google’s algorithm – the formula it uses to work out what users are searching for.

In particular, this update improves Google’s ability to give intelligent results to long, conversational search queries – the kind where you use a whole question or sentence in natural language, rather than a couple of words – which are becoming increasingly common.

The smart part is how Hummingbird takes context into account, grouping words and looking for relevant synonyms to get at the meaning and intent behind the search, instead of just looking at a bunch of keywords.

Likewise, Google is now much more able to relate each search to the one before. At the Hummingbird launch, after a search about the Eiffel Tower, Google was simply asked “How tall is it?” - it worked out the connection between the two searches, and had the answer before you could say “324 metres”.

Everybody’s gone mobile

One of the main factors driving these longer and sequential searches is the rise of voice recognition in mobile devices. Hummingbird will help Google to provide better answers for mobile searches – in particular ones using the spoken word, such as through Google Voice Control, or Siri.

Likewise, mobile users need to get to the point. They demand higher relevance in their search results, so expect spammy, low quality or keyword-stuffed sites to be penalised more than ever.

If nothing else, take Hummingbird as an indication of travel. Google clearly expects mobile search to be the future – so if you still haven’t addressed how you give users a great mobile experience, that’s something you need to look at. Fast.

SEO’s a marketing function

Hummingbird re-affirms Google’s emphasis on quality content above all – so search engine specialists can’t be consigned to a silo, tinkering with your website behind the scenes. They need to sit with marketing, and get actively involved in the content creation process.

Although primarily about quality, some subtle changes following the new update may help your content to fly; for example, you might want to prioritise on-page content over downloadable assets.

Likewise, using more granular techniques – like Rich Snippets – will help Google to really understand the purpose of each piece of content on your page… and that, in turn, will help to deliver the laser-focused results mobile users require.

It’s not all about Google

One final thing that’ll be interesting for many B2B marketers is how the other search engines will follow Google’s lead.

It’s easy to overlook the likes of Bing and Yahoo! at home, where Google provides the lion’s share of traffic – but don’t assume this is the case worldwide. An over-reliance on Google can harm the effectiveness of your web presence as a tool to reach other international territories… but that’s a blog for another day.

Quality is its own reward (but Google helps)

Ultimately, Hummingbird is like any Google update: it is designed to show users the best quality content, more of the time.

So the most important thing for marketers – as it always have been – is to offer the best website you possibly can, for the most relevant audiences, that works on the devices they actually use.

Hopefully that, at least, is nothing new.